Archive for March, 2011

Playing Mourinho: TSG’s USA-Argentina Game Plan

Been meaning to do an addendum post like this for awhile during games.

Let's just say we've confused with this guy before...

We often get the request here at TSG that asks, “What would we do for team set-up and strategy for a US game.” That is, don’t project what Bob Bradley would do–we did that in our official preview–but what we do if we were in Bob’s….sweats.

That didn’t come out right.

Today we introduce “Playing Mourinho.” If you guys like the segment, let me know and we’ll try to get it going more frequently.

Let’s give it a whirl:

Our objective: Put on a qualitative performance against Argentina at the Meadowlands, but not at the risk of developing for the future.

It terms of the Gold Cup, we’ve already got enough talent to beat everyone and be 50-50 with Mexico in that final game at the Rose Bowl. I’m less concerned with Gold Cup preparation than I should be perhaps.

If we saw anything with “last” cycle with Bob Bradley it’s that his positive penchant for bringing in a lot of players (I believe three times more during the cycle than his predecessor Bruce Arena) also had the negative impact of not allowing the team to gel.

No fault of his own mind you–when you’re working with the likes of Robbie Findley and Eddie Johnson, it’s understandable.

Our strategy: Argentina plays a nasty 4-2-4. There front four players in Lavezzi, Pastore, the unparalleled Lionel Messi and Di Maria are all dangerous with the ball and sharp moving off of it.

Whereas Batista’s predecessor, Maradona, made some glaring miscalculations in the midfield and the backline, Batista’s Argentina team is exceedingly more complete.

Whereas Maradona left Javier Mascherano to fend as the lone holder (who himself would watch Maxi Rodriguez and Angel DiMaria be more focused on the attack), Batista has rightfully employed both Mascherano and midfield big stick man Esteban Cambiasso in the middle (and occassionally sacrificed Pastore for Ever Banega to another box-to-boxer).

In the back Batista has balanced a defensive side that saw centerbackers like Otamendi on the outside with the still savvy Zanetti and the emerging Roja–Zanetti is a pleasure to watch defensively whereas Roja plays defense by merely being more athletic and younger than anyone else.

Argentina will try to have Messi as their attack iniator with a trailing Pastore to switch the point of attack and/or play in Lavezzi and DiMaria.

1st half States attack...

Given the forward and off-ball movements of the four it will be very difficult for the US–I mean our–backline to get wide or get out on the attack. Especially on the left flank where Javier Zanetti loves to play Steve Cherundolo and race endline to endline.

So I’m just going to forget about that left flank, completely. I’m going to plop Bocanegra there and tell him I don’t care if there is a free ball up the field and you can make a cross or take a shot. Stay at home because I know you’re 32 in a few months.

I put Tim Ream inside of him. He’s a natural lefty and sadly (or happily enough), he’s got the best distribution skills of the lot of centerbacks.

Jay DeMerit and Eric Lichaj complete the back four. I just haven’t seen Chandler enough and I watched Lichaj at least tie up Bale once.

DeMerit trumps Oguchi Onyewu because of his agility and man-tracking. Crosses out wide (the few there may be) may be played more on the floor than in the air. I’m comfy with DeMerit, Ream and goalie Tim Howard in taking care of them. Lichaj has a cautious license to go forward I might add.

Ahead of the back four, I complete my 4-4-2.

Here’s the thing. I don’t think Jermaine Jones should be the primary creator. From what I’ve seen of him in that role, I think he forces it a bit much. I want to alleviate that responsibility from him.

That said, I need calmness and distribution on the ball. And that’s why I drop Edu. Edu is still challenged in possession from time-to-time and one ill-timed turnover and the US may get caught out. Like it or not about Junior Bradley who likes to spray hospital balls up the pitch from time to time, he rarely makes a mistake in possession in the defensive third. This of course would have been my ideal role for discoing Stu Holden.

I’m going to use the savvy Jermaine Jones as the primary tackler on Messi on the left and I’m going to push Bradley up. As much as TSG is a fan of Pastore, the youngster can get rattled when it’s a physical game. There you go Junior. Have at him.

I do go 4-4-2 but it looks more like an unbalanced 4-2-2-2. I’ve got Donovan countering behind DiMaria with Juan Agudelo ahead stretching the defense. Once that space clears Dempsey can go to work if we can beat Mascherano to an open line to the goal.

I’m going to use Jozy Altidore in multiple ways. We can either sweep almost horizontally across the formation and provide a target option. I choose Jozy instead of Buddle here because I can also have Jozy go out wide with a little Carragher-esque move around Ottamendi or whoever follows him around out there.

Remember Jozy’s playing wing now and frankly he looks his best when steamtraining around the corner somewhere. Additionally, I’ve seen him look best on that left side.

As you guessed I’m playing on the counter, but a key note here is I play quick and not defensive. Let’s let Lichaj especially fend for himself so Donovan isn’t drawn back to help him. I can’t respect *both Messi and DiMaria that sets the wrong tone for the team.

Similarly with Jones keeping tabs on Messi I try to keep Dempsey as high as possible as well.

Should my 4-4-2 fail…meaning I can ping it quickly through Junior and Jones to Donovan and Dempsey, then I’m going to insert Benny Feilhaber and sacrifice Jozy at the 46th minute, not the 60th minute.

I am willing to take a gamble from what I saw of him in the Chile game that Agudelo can play hold up ball if called upon through the air.

And that’s what I got.

Everybody hold on!

TSG’s Official USA vs. Argentina Preview

And we kick off our USA vs. Argentina preview.

The last time we may be able to show this as a positive for JB....

The United States’ Men’s National “A” Team takes the field for the first time since their friendly against Poland in Chicago in October 2010. They’ll be greeted, coldly, by a nearly full-stacked Argentinian team led by Lionel Messi, John Cryer-look-a-like Javier Mascherano, and the object of TSG’s fawning, Javier Pastore.

The South American team is gearing up for the Copa America later this year. The weather? Frigid and expected to be near freezing at game time. (The line on poor snood comments Saturday evening already stands at 36 in-broadcast, please don’t do your part).

Here are some foundational points for shaping this preview:

» There will be over 60,000 people expected at the Meadowlands to bear witness.

After Brazil went Jimmy Hoffa on the Yanks last August, my premise is that the US will use their best or near-best line-up.

This will be Bradley’s first time seeing the regulars in almost five months and with the game being televised on the ESPN network, a good showing would be appreciated by USSF honcho Sunil Gulati.

» I’m completely flummoxed by what Bob Bradley does in the midfield, now that Stu Holden can only play xBox. It makes it immediately exciting, but also difficult to predict.

What I’m saying is, I’ll name our “11 at the Whistle” as is customary below, but my faith in the formation and how the player selections are deployed, is near an all-time low.

The media's new favorite toy....

» Timothy Chandler, the highly-lauded, as yet to be seen Bundesliga up-and-comer, has been playing right back in practice this week.

By the way, the hype of the “next big thing” always follows the “shiny new Yank around,” but I’m amazed at some of the media coverage on Chandler defining his game. I’ve got about 15 minutes of his game on a grainy stream a few months ago. You mean to tell me that the media folks can already qualify this player as “this type” or “that type?”

Didn’t media hounds learn about their misplaced positional and style allegiance by declaring Edgar Castillo fit for a World Cup roster spot as an “attacking left back?”

Anywho…we soldier on.

Let’s get on with our customary, not seen in awhile preview.

Per usual, it goes: (I can feel the excitement building)

TSG: What We’re Looking At

11 At the Whistle

Disclaimers

Go:

TSG: What We’re Looking For:

• Is this Bob Bradley II or Bob Bradley I merely ensconced in new sweats?

What's going on in there Bob?

A shame that Coach Sweats lost the Egyptian friendly to unfriendly fire.

That game would likely have been an opportunity to test drive some newer faces in advance of Gold Cup selection and this friendly series would be the ability to have some of those in place or begin building chemistry.

Yes, the 2011 Gold Cup is vital. For those that are new to the game, the winner of the Gold Cup gets the ticket to the annual Confederation’s Cup (aka World Cup dress rehearsal) tournament in 2013.

Back in October, coach Bradley mixed it up a little bit on both the personnel side (Maurice Edu at centerback) and on the formation side (a midfield triumvirate of three central midfielders Jones, Bradley and Edu gluing together a 4-3-3).

Little is known about which way Bradley will go formation wise against Argentina.

That said, a glance at the roster shows the lack of any “true winger.” No Ale Bedoya, no DaMarcus Beasley, and if you want to consider it, no Stu Holden who can sling in a cross.

Further, the absence of players like Jose Torres and Dax McCarty suggests that the US will not play ping-pong horizontally, and stick with the direct football that’s been their custom.

Argentina’s deployment and their offensive firepower, further suggests the best way for Bradley to play, will again to be on the counter. (Note: I haven’t even mentioned Germany’s throttling of Argentina in the World Cup by countering them un-mercilessly. Yes Batista toes the touchline instead of Maradona these days, but that lesson will not be lost on Coach Sweats.)

Back to the Yanks. Many clubs and countries are finding it difficult to locate that winger that likes to take it wide and around the fullback, and play in a cross or gain the corner. As mentioned, Bradley’s selection starkly shows that wide play will consist of probably two offensive strategies that should shape his team selection and formation: 1) Drawing a striker (Altidore?) across the field and laying off to a trailing Donovan or in-cutting Dempsey or 2) using the right flank overlap with Cherundolo–absent for this camp–and Donovan. (we’ll get to #2 in a bit)

So with that said, that leaves two offensive formations that the Yanks will play, the vaunted 4-4-2 and the trending 4-2-3-1.

Now.

The only way the US goes true 4-4-2 is if Juan Agudelo is deployed from the get-go on Saturday and believe it or not, I do think there is a shot of it. (We’ll diagnose that position in a moment).

But the key point in this bullet is, how does Bradley view the roles in the midfield and how progressive is he with his roster in starting to develop players for 2014? That would be Bob Bradley II.

Bob Bradley I: Go with those that he trusts and the Michael Bradley initiator that was the formula at the World Cup.

....

• Jozy, we finally found you some friends.

Jozy Altidore is still the best option up top for the Yanks.

Now consider this.

Jozy Altidore is playing good minutes, but part-time, in the SuperLiga in Turkey in the midfield.

Not a recipe for striker development however.

Jozy maybe we found you some competition?

The best part about new options at striker for the Yanks is that Altidore will finally need to claim his role as oppose to be the lone candidate for it.

International speed? Difference maker?

In Juan Agudelo, Bob Bradley has a player that has speed and the ability to attack and run at defenders. However his best complementary asset may prove all his worth.

If Chile was a prelude, the best thing I saw Agudelo do–the range of his game if you will–was hold up the ball and seal off defenders with his back to the basket. (Frankly that was Findley’s main asset beyond speed–the Nottingham Forest player was more than decent at it.)

Saturday–pending how and when he is deployed–really is the first chance to start investigating this question on the New York Red Bulls youngster: Is Juan Agudelo 2011: a) a difference-maker in the International game, b) merely a complement or c) a word in progress for 2014 at best.

• Whose got the best ‘Dolo impression? Will they be allowed to mug for it?

Yes, yes, the centerback situation for the Yanks bares watching, especially when you consider that all the goals given up by the Americans at the World Cup, were down the center of the field, not by rounding the flankers.

So yes, TSG will be looking at that.

That said, a window into Bob Bradley’s going forward game strategy will be unveiled in this set of friendlies.

Just how much will Bob Bradley rely on the overlapping fullbacks to create width on the pitch? Beyond one Steve Cherundolo, the rest of the outside backs (Boca, Bornstein, Spector) all play like they’re being tethered to a place–a defensive place–on the field. (And rightly so I might add.)

Will Bradley entrust players like Spector, Lichaj and Chandler to get forward? And can those players impact the game or does them going forward just play into Argentina’s hands.

Jermaine Jones & Michael Bradley OR Michael Bradley & Jermaine Jones?

• I’m the rapper; he’s the DJ

Benny Feilhaber, Jermaine Jones and Michael Bradley. Please stand up. All three of these players have some capability to play the Yanks maestro in the middle of the field.

Will Feilhaber be advanced or be used tucking in from the left? Will Michael Bradley be pushed up with Jermaine Jones as the destroyer behind him? Or will it be vice versa?

Same thing here. The first 15 minutes on Saturday will be very telling as to who Bradley values and why. It is of course, the first chance to potentially see Bradley junior and Jones pair together, since they were running into one another outside of Philadelphia in the Colombia game.

11 At The Whistle

STR: Edson Buddle

The skinny: Jozy Altidore just got to camp on Wednesday. Maybe ready to go by Sunday, but I have a sneaking suspicion that Bradley goes up top with Buddle here.

FW: Clint Dempsey

MID: Benny Feilhaber, Landon Donovan

CDM: Jermaine Jones, Michael Bradley

The skinny: Aforementioned. Three players all capable of playing the conduit. Two players capable of being the destroyer. How does it shake out?

DEF: Carlos Bocanegra, Oguchi Onyewu, Jay DeMerit, Tim Chandler Jonathan Spector

The skinny: A veteran backline is employed with the exception of Tim Chandler. Since Lichaj was a late invite, I doubt he’s a starter. I would have suggested Jonathan Spector as the starter, but I’ll go out on a limb with Chandler. Omar Gonzalez got his first cap against Brazil. The best way to find out what a player is made of, is to throw him into the fire–with veterans around him. (Update: Changed to Spector, 03/25)

Other points:

* Hard to bring in Jay DeMerit to a camp and take him away from a club game if you’re not going to play him. DeMerit’s tracking ability on the Argentine forwards will be needed.

* Similarly with Gooch, he’s playing leftback these days at Twente. If I would have dropped any veteran from the starting team, it would have been him, but Bradley has a soft spot for the big guy and gives him a chance here to show his agility.

* Bocanegra. While I think Bornstein is a better option here. You don’t sit the captain. That said, it’s Lionel Messi out there on that left wing, not Aaron Lennon.

G: Tim Howard

The skinny: There is no skinny here. He’s bald, he’s a bad man and he’s been marshaling the defense for four years.

The US on the attack....

Disclaimers:

» Jonathan Spector for Tim Chandler at RB: Seems even more probable than plausible. A big challenge to Chandler starting? Little command of the English language.

Odds: 60%

» Jonathan Bornstein for Bocanegra at LB, Boca to CB, Guch to the Bench: Don’t see it. Would say a lot about Bradley’s continued infatuation with JB.

Odds: 50%

» Altidore for Buddle: Coin flip.

Odds: 50%

4-4-2 disclaimer....

» States goes 4-4-2: This is all about what Coach Bradley thinks of Juan Agudelo

Odds: 25%

» The Yanks go with a narrow 4-2-3-1 with Feilhaber as the hub: If you remember, the US beat a similar team to Argentina in Spain back in 2009. In the 2nd half of that match, the States looked great with Feilhaber pushed up the field and linked up with Donovan and Dempsey. An option.

Odds: 17%

—–
About Argentina:

As I wrote earlier this week (though I had some players out of place), Argentina plays a 4-3-3. However it really functions more like a 4-2-4. The front four is a diamond typically with Messi cutting in from the right and DiMaria going wide on the left.

Javier Pastore, as opposed to Valencia’s Ever Banega, expects to get the start in the Tevez role, which is the withdrawn striker capable of carnage role. As I wrote back here, many in Argentina think the key to 2014 success, is the interplay of Pastore and Messi. I’m not sure I like an internal role for Pastore, but Saturday should tell at least part of the tale for one of TSG’s favorite non-American players. (If you don’t know about the man-crushing that’s moved from Feilhaber to Pastore…well you’re probably better off for it.)

The challenge that Argentina will have will be integrating Lavezzi (not a huge challenge mind you). He’s played the point before and with Higuain and Aguero not in for this friendly series, Lavezzi will have continue to play a true #9 role. (For Napoli he plays wide.)

Captain Javier Mascherano and Esteban “I should have been in South Africa” Cambiasso play the holders. Occasionally, Banega will be deployed here as well.

Javier Zanetti is the only fullback that usually joins the attack. The rest of the backline will be Nicolás Otamendi, Nicolás Burdisso and one of either Pablo Zabaleta or the youngster Marcos Rojo at leftback. I think you may see Rojo here, as I believe he is the lone lefty. (What no Heinze!)

Goalie Sergio Romero is a constant for Batista’s men.

Argentina on the attack...

Imagery: Charlie Davies Comes Back

Guess who’s shooting USA vs. Argentina for TSG again. That’s right. Hansel Adams. He’s so hot right now.

Actually, it’s Matt Mathai.

And apologies…I just went through my inbox. Mathai with some gems of that special match last Saturday.

DC United’s Charlie Davies precious moments as he scored two goals in his first league game.

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Your Euro 2012 Primer Begins Here

TSG’s Serie A man Eric Giardini goes continental in this piece

UEFA stamps out some pretenders this weekend...

This weekend not only brings about only the resumption of what some may call “meaningless” friendlies, but also the continuation of qualification for the 2012 European Football Championships to be held next summer in Poland and Ukraine. After the weekend, qualification will be halfway complete and the picture of next summer’s participants will begin to take shape.

For me personally, the European Championships have always held a special place in my soccer heart. My first exposure to the EUROs was in 2000. I remember flipping through the channels in the spare bedroom of my house just outside of Richmond, Virginia. I was 15 years old that summer so I was too young to be a “productive member of society” and hold a part-time job. School and just gotten out and I was looking for something to fill the time. As I lied on the bed mindlessly going through the 12 channels I had (this was before I had cable), I came across a channel that had no picture but still got audio. After listening to the audio for a bit, I realized that it was soccer of some sort, but I knew it could not have been the World Cup since it was midway through the four year cycle. It was only, after listening for what seemed like a while, did the announcers mention that it was the 2000 UEFA European Championships from Belgium and The Netherlands.

Tears down the Tyneside when Alan Shearer retired....

For the next three weeks I would lie on that bed, close my eyes, listen, and visualize the names and action on the imaginary pitch that I heard from that television. Alan Shearer, Figo, Zinedine Zidane, Francesco Totti, and Edgar Davids are names that still come to me when I think back on that tournament. I remember the heart stopping, crippling excitement when Italy and The Netherlands went to their semifinals penalty shootout and the heartbreaking anguish of Italy losing in the finals to the same French team that won the World Cup two years prior. I still don’t think I’ve ever actually seen David Trezeguet’s cup-winning Golden Goal, and to be honest, I hope I never do.

I was much more on top of things in 2004 as I sat and marveled at how Greece, a team that seemed to have no desire to score a goal, managed to make it to the finals and beat the host nation Portugal. Unfortunately, I was not able to watch as many of the matches as I would have liked in 2004 as I was in between my freshman and sophomore years of school and was working two jobs to help pay my way through college.

That changed in 2008 as I was fresh out of graduate school with no job prospects and nothing but time, and student loans, on my hands. I must have watched every match of that tournament that summer and have fond memories of my roommate at the time’s family from Peru come over to watch the Spain v Germany final and speaking to them in Spanish as they cheered on Germany and we cheered on Spain.

The 2012 edition is just the latest in a line of European Championships that I am excited to be getting closer to. As my soccer savviness as grown over the years, and I am much more aware of the qualification processes of major tournaments, I’m finding the qualification process to EURO 2012 almost as exciting as the actual tournament will be next summer. Almost.

Next summer’s tournament’s qualification is different than years past. In 2008, the 50 qualifying nations were divided into seven groups with the top two in each group automatically qualifying, along with the hosts Austria and Switzerland, for the final field of 16. For qualification for 2012, 51 nations (Montenegro has since joined UEFA) have been divided into six groups of six and three groups of five in a round-robin home-and-away format. The winners of the nine groups, and the second-place finisher with the most points from their group, will automatically qualify for next summer’s tournament while the remaining eight runner-ups will play in a home-and-away playoff to round out the tournament field. The 14 that survive the 13 month grind will join the two hosts to round out the field of 16.

Tournament Subplots to Become Familiar With:

Qualification for any major international tournament never goes according to plan – some nations struggle at the beginning only to find their feet later on to eventually qualify (Argentina in 2010 World Cup qualification). Others struggle and end up not qualifying and sending an entire nation into a panic (England in 2008 European Championship qualification). Every qualification match is important no matter if you are up against the likes of Germany or Spain or against a traditional minnow like San Marino or Azerbaijan. Below are a few of the qualification subplots that have emerged:

Oozing class: Ozil for Germany...

1)     The “Big Guns” are firing on All Cylinders: Germany, The Netherlands, and Spain have all started their respective campaigns with a bang with perfect records and high goal differential numbers. The most impressive among these nations has been Germany. In four Group A matches, Germany is outscoring its opponents 13-1. As we saw in South Africa, this new-look German squad has no trouble scoring goals. It will be interesting to see if this form can continue throughout qualification and into the tournament.

2)     Tiny Montenegro in Front of the Three Lions: Group G sees Montenegro atop of the group with 10 points from its first four matches. This puts the tiny nation three points clear of England – although the English have a match in hand. The two played to a 0-0 draw at Wembley Stadium back in October. This is remarkable for a federation that was only established in 2007. Their quick start has them up to 25th in the latest FIFA World Rankings (take that how you will) and tied with traditional African power Côte d’Ivoire. Needless to say, this all has captain Mirko Vučinić very excited.

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USA Kit: Out With Nike Grey, In With Red

Let's see dynamo Dax McCarty in the #10 in this sucker...

The U.S. Men’s National Team will debut a new Nike red jersey when they face Argentina on Saturday, March 26 at New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.

Jut a reminder that amid conjecture, TSG confirmed that red kit in January. (Sorry for the self promotion, long night.)

I think a white sash would have been better for the contract, but what do I know I don’t design boring jerseys. #oops.

 

The Jack Of All Trades: Chatting With Brek Shea

Brek Shea was the first player born in the 90's to be capped by the senior USMNT.

TSG got the opportunity to catch up with Brek Shea right before the beginning of the season. In Brek’s short career he has played striker, midfielder and defender and has played every position well. He must be a coaches dream, as he doesn’t complain, and just goes out, plays as hard as he can, and does what is asked for him.

Here is our conversation before their last pre-season game.

TSG: Okay, first question. Are you going to be okay now that Heath Pearce is no longer in Dallas? Or perhaps better question: Is Dallas a safer place?
Brek Shea: I don’t know man. He brought a lot of fun stuff and I’m going to miss him. I’m pretty jealous he’s going to be out in California which sounds pretty sweet, especially with non-soccer related stuff.

TSG: Alfonso Mondelo, the MLS technical director, said you impressed scouts on the Generation Adidas trip to Spain, but you impressed them in central defense though?! What is your ideal position? Where do you prefer to play?
Brek Shea: I don’t know. I’ve had to play center back because there has been a shortage of people and injuries, so coach asked me to play there, and I have to do what he asks. I don’t know if I have an ideal position. A lot of people like me at center back and a lot of people like me as a left midfielder. I don’t really have a preferred position so whatever the boss asks of me I’ll do.

TSG: So where do you see yourself playing 5 years from?
Brek Shea: Well it all depends on what I play this season. If I play left mid this season, then I’ll probably play left mid for the rest of my career. If he (coach) switches me to center back, then I will probably be playing center back.

TSG: You’ve played striker, forward, winger, and defender over the past 5 years. Any interest in playing goalie?
Brek Shea: I did start off as a goalie when I was young. I would get mad when we got scored on, so I would go up to our goalie and say “hey let me play goalie”. [ TSG throws in some sort of pun about how it is good to take things into your own hands. Brek chuckles ].

Knocks them in regardless of the position he plays.

TSG: You’ve graduated from the Generation Adidas program. Can you tell us about your experience with this program?
Brek Shea: It’s a great program for young people and for young athletes coming into MLS. They help you out, they give you a chance to go to school, and they hook you up with some really great opportunities.

TSG: Getting back to Heath’s departure. The team let both Pearce and Dax McCarty go in the re-allocation draft and in the process got younger, but arguably less experienced? Who are the main leaders now and who will need to pick up the slack?
Brek Shea: Our captain (Daniel Hernandez) and Kevin (Hartman) are two main veterans on the team and they do a pretty good job, but I think everyone needs to pick it up. We have some new guys and a lot of youth guys that came up, so everyone needs to take it in their own hands to be responsible.

TSG: Do you see yourself taking on more of a leadership role?
Brek Shea: Well I’m not a very big vocal leader, but I hope I can show some leadership by playing well. I like a lot of the younger guys and I hang out with them as well, so that they can feel like they can come up to me if they need anything, or talk to me about stuff that they might be scared to with the older guys.

TSG: You went to Bob Bradley’s January camp this year after featuring in an October friendly against Colombia. First, what skills did you improve on in the camp and 2nd, tell us a little bit about the differences in training and game preparation between Schylles Hyndman and Bob Bradley?
Brek Shea: When I was there, they really wanted me to work on coming inside, instead of just being out on the touchline. They asked me to come inside and get the ball and run at the players, instead of being out wide and going around players. They wanted me to come in, so I could get shots off, and that really helped with my game. I was really thankful for that.

We had the whole month to prepare for one game with Bob. It was mostly about getting back in shape and learning and dealing with his style of play. They are different guys and they go about things differently.

This picture captures two of Brek's goals this year. Be more dominant in the air and get more chances with the USMNT. TSG says "that shouldn't be too hard".

TSG: What skills do you want to work on and improve upon this year?
Brek Shea: Well one of the big things I want to work on is my heading. I’m one of the bigger guys out there and my heading hasn’t been the best in the past, so I want to come in this year and win a lot of headers and score a lot more goals with my head. I also want to work on everything. Obviously my left foot is more technical than my right and I want to get it up to speed.

TSG: Last year, the media was reluctant to place a “favorite” tag on FC Dallas as the team was undefeated for major stretches in the season, but those matches were draws instead of wins. How do you feel about being a “favorite” this year and teams gunning for FC Dallas?
Brek Shea: I kind of like the pressure. Last year, even up to the final we were the underdogs, and I think this year people will have more respect for us. To be honest, I like it because each game will be a hard game and those games are always fun.

TSG: Dallas season tickets are up 300% on the year. That’s good, however Pizza Hut park still has a ways to go, or rather attendance has a ways to go before the park fills up. Is it difficult playing at home in front of half empty stadiums?
Brek Shea: Well as a player you definitely hope it will be more packed and louder than last year. You can only expect what you had the week before, so we never expected the big crowds, but as you said sales are up, so hopefully we’ll have a good loud crowd to play for.

TSG: You’ve been having a fantastic pre-season. Obviously your team goals are to win the MLS cup. Any specific personal goals for the season?
Brek Shea: Well, I would like to get more chances with the national team and I want to do bigger and better things than last year, like score more goals, get more assists and play with more consistency.

TSG: Describe what it’s like playing with a true #10 in David Ferreira?
Brek Shea: Well obviously he played very well last year and was MVP of the league. It’s great cause every time we are in trouble we can find him and he relieves tons of pressure from the rest of us.  He is someone you can always rely on to keep the ball, to keep possession and can find the right angles and passes to create the offense.

TSG: What are your long-term plans? Do you have plans to try and make it in Europe? What’s a good destination league or team for you?
Brek Shea: Well as a soccer player my goals are to play in Europe, but as of right now I’m focused on this season. Hopefully in the future when the time is right, I will play in Europe, but who knows when that will be. I would like to play in one of the big leagues and hopefully I can focus on doing and improving on what I do every day so that I can get there eventually.

Brek's hairstyle is more dynamic and ever-changing then Holden's, however both hairstyles tweet!

TSG: We recently did an interview with Brandon Zimmerman. How do you feel about him as a player?
Brek Shea: [Perks up]. Brandon Zimmerman. He’s one of my good friends. I love playing with him. I would call him a traditional “English style player”, who wins the ball and dishes it out and crushes everyone as he runs past them. To be honest, I like the way he plays. He inspires you to play hard when you play with him, because he lets everyone know that it’s “game time”.

TSG: So both yours and Stuart Holden’s hair have twitter accounts. Whose hair is better?
Brek Shea: To be honest, Stuart’s always stays the same, where as mine changes every once in a while. I get a little more flair with the change, but I don’t know…

TSG: Well good luck with the upcoming season.
Brek Shea: Thank you very much.

On Dax McCarty, Brek Shea Carpentry & More…

Let’s roll this out Mike Lupica style.

Dax McCarty...continuing to impress...

• Kind of what would be nice? funny? cheeky? if Dax McCarty trotted out for DC United’s next home game in a Ben Olsen jersey, no?

On Dax, props to Real Salt Lake insisting that we make sure people know it was Dax who authorized the Chuck Davies road to redemption free kick.

How in the world Dallas let this guy go without compensation is…mind boggling?

• ROLFing or whatever it’s called. Brek Shea commandeering Heath Pearce’s place as funniest Hoopster.

Yesterday’s Shea went Villa, Bob, not David. Too funny.

• Joe Cannon revists the Bay Area today with the Vancouver Whitecaps…reserves, according to Robert Jonas. That’s all wrong or it’s like a Bizarro Major League flick with Cannon standing in for Corben Bensen.

• This tweet from MLS Insider this morning: “Portland Timbers today announced that they will host Dutch club AFC Ajax in an international friendly 5.25.11 at JELD-WEN Field at 7 p.m.”

"1....2....3....everyone....EXHALE!"

Holy smokes! Literally. That’s a lot of puff-puff-give in one location. Probably won’t matter who wins, you know? Or maybe everyone wins.

Or just eats a lot.

• More tribute videos? Charlie Davies or Double Rainbow guy. Anyone want to send us a mash-up?

• Speaking of DC United, the Toffees come to town for a pre-season friendly with Chuck Breezy and friends.

That date? July 23 at RFK Stadium.

Meanwhile, transfer rumors about that the ‘Fro may be relocating. So Real Madrid despite not being able to stay healthy.

(That said, might you see more athletes moving out of the EPL to less physical leagues. Good question. Ronaldo knows the answer here.)

• The evolution of the keeper position at Arsenal. Had no idea. Or sort of did. But.

(Check out more spoof photos on Jens Lehman and Arsenal here.)

Looks about right....

 

 

 

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